How do unemployment insurance benefits affect a claim for Social Security disability benefits?
Receiving unemployment benefits can be a problem if you have a claim for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) because you are making two inconsistent statements:
- To get unemployment benefits, you are claiming that you are able to work, but you cannot find a job.
- But, to get Social Security disability benefits, you are claiming that you cannot perform any type of work at a substantial gainful activity level (generally full time work).
So, you are saying that you are ABLE and UNABLE to work at the same time.
In my experience, Judges do not like this and you are less likely to be found disabled under these circumstances.
I even recommend that my clients amend the Alleged Onset Date to some time after the unemployment benefits end. I do this by writing a short letter to the Judge noting that I wish to amend the alleged onset date to date “x.” Then, at the hearing, I mention the change to the alleged onset date again.
However, strictly speaking, Social Security does permit you to receive disability benefits and unemployment insurance.
The May 19, 2010, then Chief Administrative Law Judge Frank Cristuado issued a Memorandum states:
… the receipt of unemployment insurance benefits does not preclude the receipt of Social Security disability benefits. The receipt of unemployment benefits is only one of many factors that must be considered in determining whether a claimant is disabled.
Therefore, it is SSA’s position that individuals need not choose between applying for unemployment insurance and Social Security disability benefits.
However, application for unemployment benefits is evidence that the ALJ must consider together with all of the medical and other evidence.
A second memo was issued on August 9, 2010 on how Social Security should treat applications for individuals receiving unemployment benefits.
This is a reminder of the policy concerning receipt of unemployment insurance benefits. Receipt of unemployment benefits does not preclude the receipt of Social Security disability benefits. The receipt of unemployment benefits is only one of many factors that must be considered in determining whether the claimant is disabled. See 20 CFR 404.1512(b) and 416.912(b).
In considering claims of individuals who have applied for unemployment benefits, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs) should be mindful of the principles discussed in Social Security Ruling 00-1c, which incorporates Cleveland v. Policy Management Systems Corp., 526 U.S. 795 (1999). In that case, the Supreme Court held, in a unanimous decision, that a claim for Social Security disability benefits is often consistent with a claim for relief under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) even though there must be an ability to work in order to obtain relief under the ADA. The Court noted that, under the presumptions embodied in our five-step sequential evaluation process, a person can qualify for Social Security disability benefits even though he or she remains capable of performing some work. Similar logic applies to applications for unemployment benefits.
In addition, it is often uncertain whether we will find a person who applies for unemployment benefits ultimately to be disabled under our rules, and our decision making process can be quite lengthy. Therefore, it is SSA’s position that individuals need not choose between applying for unemployment insurance and Social Security disability benefits.
However, application for unemployment benefits is evidence that the ALJ must consider together with all of the medical and other evidence. Often, the underlying circumstances will be of greater relevance than the mere application for and receipt of the benefits. For instance, the fact that a person has, during his or her alleged period of disability, sought employment at jobs with physical demands in excess of the person’s alleged limitations would be a relevant factor that an ALl should take into account, particularly if the ALJ inquired about an explanation for this apparent inconsistency.
Accordingly, ALJs should look at the totality of the circumstances in determining the significance of the application for unemployment benefits and related efforts to obtain employment.
So, applying for, or receiving, unemployment benefits does not prevent you from getting Social Security, BUT it is a factor Social Security considers in deciding your case.
I have seen Judges react badly when an individual is claiming unemployment benefits and Social Security disability at the same time. Personally, I caution against it. However, if unemployment benefits are the only way you have to make ends meet, it is not (necessarily) the end of your Social Security case.
My thanks to Maine Social Security attorney Gordon Gates for bringing the first memorandum to my attention.